About the Specialty

What is Family Medicine?

Family Medicine is the only specialty that cares for all patient at all stages of life. Family physicians are trained to provide acute illness care, chronic illness care, and preventive care. They prescribe medications, perform procedures, and provide psychosocial counseling. Some family physicians do additional training in addiction medicine, surgical and high-risk obstetrical care, sports medicine, and palliative care.

Family physicians care for patients in clinics, emergency rooms, hospitals, nursing homes, and, more rarely, in the homes of patients. They work in solo groups, single specialty groups, and multispecialty groups in urban, suburban, and rural communities. Family physicians care for disadvantaged and underserved populations. They may also work as directors for health systems, insurance companies, and health departments.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians:

Family practice is the medical specialty which provides continuing, comprehensive health care for the individual and family. It is the specialty in breadth which integrates the biological, clinical, and behavioral sciences. The scope of family practice encompasses all ages, all sexes, each organ system, and every disease entity. Quality healthcare in family practice is the achievement of optimal physical and mental health through accessible cost-effective care that is based on best evidence, responsive to the needs and preferences of patients and populations, and respectful of patients’ families, personal values, and beliefs. Family practice is a three-dimensional specialty incorporating the dimensions of (1) knowledge, (2) skill, and (3) process. While knowledge and skill may be shared with other specialties, the family practice process is unique. At the center of this process is the patient-physician relationship with the patient viewed in the context of the family. It is the extent to which this relationship is valued, developed, nurtured, and maintained that distinguishes family practice from all other specialties.

What is the Life of a Typical Family Physician?

The fast answer is that there is no typical family physician. The breadth and variety of practices family physicians are engaged in make it a unique specialty, and only you can decide if Family Medicine is a good fit for you. Below are some facts about family medicine from the AAFP:

Patient Population: A family physician needs 2,000 people to practice medicine (versus 10,000 for other specialties and 50,000+ for sub-specialties). Family physicians provide the majority of care for America's underserved rural and urban populations. More than a third of all US counties, with a combined population exceeding 40 million Americans, depend on family physicians to avoid designation as primary care health profession shortage areas. Nearly one in four of all office visits annually are made to family physicians.

Diagnoses: Family physicians are the only specialists qualified to treat most ailments and provide comprehensive health care for people of all ages from newborns to seniors. Providing patients with a personal medical home, family physicians deliver a range of acute, chronic, and preventive medical care services. Family physicians also manage chronic illness often coordinating care provided by other sub-specialists.

Income: Mean income for family physicians in the US is about $163,400. Those working in rural areas earn an average of $174,500 while those working in urban areas earn an average of $161,400.

Obstetrics: 29.2% of urban and 37.5% of rural physicians in the Pacific region reported delivering babies.

The Work Week: Family physicians work an average of 50.8 hours each week, including 41.3 hours of direct patient care. Each week family doctors have an average of 91.8 office visits, 9.5 hospital visits, 2.7 nursing home visits, 0.4 house calls, 5.4 patients supervised under home health care, 8.4 nursing home patients supervised, 1.7 hospice patients supervised, and 7.8 patients given free or discounted care.

Working Environment: 42.6% of family physicians work for a family practice group, 21.7% for a multispecialty group, 18.1% work solo, 8.4% work for 2-person group, and 2.7% work for an HMO. Non-traditional options for family physicians include working in health care policy, management roles in health care organizations, epidemiology/public health advocacy, business and industry roles, medical informatics, international health, and part-time or shared practice arrangements.